What is "Cultural Marxism"?

Many of the "internet intellectuals" I've been paying attention to in recent years - like Bishop Robert Barron or Jordan Peterson or Dave Rubin - have frequently spoken of "Cultural Marxism" as one of the sources of the conflict in our politics and public discourse.

Moves to limit free speech or prevent conservative speakers from sharing their ideas or to create "safe spaces" on college campuses are all related to Cultural Marxism.  So are "diversity quotas" in hiring or university admissions, such as those at Harvard that have recently been challenged by Asian families in a lawsuit.  Even the moves by some schools or children's sports teams to give out "participation trophies" or promote games in which "everyone wins", so that there will be an equality of outcome for all participants is related to Cultural Marxism.

Sometimes people refer to Cultural Marxism, or to its effects, with other related terms you may have heard, such as "Identity Politics," "Intersectional Feminism," or even "Political Correctness."

When I first ran across the term "Cultural Marxism," I was a bit perplexed.  I initially suspected that this was merely a way that conservatives were labeling and dismissing their debate opponents in much the same way that people on the Left routinely call those who disagree with them "fascists."

Yet a little research showed that the term "Cultural Marxism" actually has far more substance than a mere 'ad hominem' or name-calling attack.

Karl Marx saw all of human history as a class struggle between those who owned the means of production and those poor folks who worked for them.  The wealthy were the oppressors and the poor workers were the oppressed.

Marx saw the need for a workers' Revolution that would bring about a new kind of government and society, in which such inequalities were abolished.  Marx's idea unleashed the sad history of Socialism & Communism and has (so far) led to some 100 million violent deaths.
It is simply a matter of historical fact (for those who study history) that in every country that Socialism has been tried there has been not only massive political repression, but also economic devastation as well.

Cultural Marxism takes at least 2 fundamental ideas from Marx, but applies them to areas beyond economic class struggle.
1) First is the idea that history is the story of oppressors (those with "privilege") mistreating oppressed peoples; while Marx saw these dynamics in exclusively economic terms, Cultural Marxism sees this struggle not only in economic terms, but also in terms of race, gender, religious & national distinctions and so on.

2) The other major idea taken from Marx is that a new kind of government or society is needed that will force 'equality of outcome' upon everyone, in order to rectify historic inequalities.

For this reason Cultural Marxists identify "oppressed groups" who need to be "empowered" or "emancipated" through non-discrimination laws, diversity quotas, and so on.  These oppressed groups take on a kind of "favored" status, which leads to that sort of Political Correctness culture that has taken hold in many Universities and which (polls show) large majorities of Americans (even Democrats) actually find odious.

In theological schools and seminaries Cultural Marxism shows up in various forms of Liberation Theology.

The video below does a great job explaining what Cultural Marxism is, and why it matters.  Below that I'll note some of the fundamental issues that I see with Cultural Marxism.

First, I'll note that I think this video makes an interesting point that Marxism, and cultural Marxism as well, could only have developed (and did in fact develop) within a largely Christian-ized society.

It is Christianity that has taught us that we ought to look after the "widow and the orphan", the weak and the marginalized.  This is one of the things that makes Christianity and its vision of Justice morally beautiful.

Yet one big problem with cultural Marxism is that (like Marx himself) it lumps everyone into identity groups based on characteristics such as race or gender or class, without any regard for the individual differences between one person and another: differences in their choices, their character, or their life experiences.

Thus, while Martin Luther King Jr. longed for a day when his children would be judged, "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," Cultural Marxism does the exact reverse: it judges people on the basis of their race or gender.  It is a sad irony that in the name of "justice" and "inclusion" Cultural Marxism actually perpetuates racial and gender stereotyping and even discrimination (or "reverse discrimination").

It therefore runs directly counter to the best traditions of the American Republic, which seeks to treat each individual on the basis of his or her own merits, rather than what family or group he or she came from.

So, while the Cultural Marxist would look at the parable of the Good Samaritan and tell us that the most important thing is that the Samaritan is a marginalized outsider, Jesus' point is almost precisely the reverse: it does not matter that the Samaritan is a Samaritan or that the Jews were Jews, the important thing is that this individual chose to show compassion, while the other individuals chose to ignore the (Jewish) man in distress.  If we (like Jesus' original hearers) had judged the situation only based upon tribal identities we would have expected the story to go quite differently.  That is Jesus' point: their tribal identities are not what matter in this story, but their individual choices.  To echo MLK, the "content of their character" is what counts.

Here is another way that Cultural Marxism also runs counter to the Christian message.  While Cultural Marxism says that our identity and our place in society is determined by our race or gender or class, Christianity explicitly says that all of these divisions are secondary, and all are superseded and re-defined based on our relationship to God through Jesus Christ.  That relationship to Christ is now the defining characteristic of our identity.  This means that among Christian brothers and sisters racial and class and gender distinctions, while they still exist, they can no longer be a source of division between us (see Galatians 3:28).  Yet cultural Marxism divides people into precisely these tribal groups and tells them that they are ipso facto in conflict and competition with one another.

And, while it is great at identifying real injustices, this ideology of Cultural Marxism has no narrative of Redemption and holds out little hope of reconciliation.  If you were born into a privileged and oppressive group, that is simply who you will always be.

The more I pay attention, I am increasingly convinced that this ideology is both pervasive and extremely dangerous.  It is dangerous because - just like economic Marxism - it is Utopian.  It holds that with just the right application of coercion, a truly just and equal society can be formed and maintained.
Like all Utopian visions, it fails to account for the reality of Original Sin and Man's fallen nature which are one reason why Marxism has never actually worked in practice, and never can.  

Furthermore, while both Scripture and the US Declaration of Independence affirm that all people are of equal moral worth as God's own creatures, yet clearly not all people are equally skilled, intelligent, diligent, attractive, or lucky, etc. (this is what the Communist party official realizes at the end of the great war movie Enemy at the Gates).  If people are allowed to make free choices and pursue their own goals and live their own lives without interference, then equality of outcome is most certainly not what will occur.  The only way to enforce equality, then, is to take away freedom from some in order to 'level the playing field' for others.  Yet such a regime would clearly be massively repressive and unjust, and would necessarily be Totalitarian.

In a time when many prominent politicians and "movers and shakers" in our culture seem to have embraced some aspects of this ideology, all lovers of freedom must be vigilant indeed and remember the old saying: "The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

Happy Independence Day!

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